The Howlin' Brothers celebrated the release of their latest album, Trouble, with a hometown show in Nashville last night — and a little onstage help from Raconteurs member and pop maestro Brendan Benson, who produced Trouble and its predecessor, Howl. Hosted by local radio station Lightning 100, the gig doubled as a mid-year highlight for the string band, whose three members have spent 2014 in a whirl of van exhaust and truck stops, completing two coast-to-coast tours since January.
With an opening set by country-noir buzz artist Nikki Lane and cameos by Benson and Young Hines, the performance also demonstrated how far the Howlin' Brothers have come since 2007, back when they spent their time playing stripped-down country blues, old-timey folk and ragtag roots-rock for restaurant crowds in north Nashville and tourists on Lower Broadway.
Benson popped up onstage several times throughout the night, playing slide guitar one minute and singing harmonies the next. To their credit, the band didn't really need him. Ian Craft bounced between fiddle and banjo — occasionally playing a kickdrum at the same time — while guitarist Jared Green stomped out the occasional drumbeat on an elevated floorboard. On record, the boys cover even more ground, with Trouble's 13 songs focusing on groove as much as chops — a rarity in a world of string-band shredders — while drawing a line between old-world revivalism and progressive bluegrass.
The Howlin' Brothers will be on the road this summer, including dates with Delbert McClinton and John Fullbright.